INTERVIEW: Laurie Brett, EastEnders
After her stepson Bobby struck her with a hockey, causing a spinal cord injury, EastEnders’ Jane Beale, played by Laurie Brett in the BBC One hit soap, has been through many trials and tribulations.
Jane’s storyline has demonstrated the difficulties that newly injured people face in the first year after injury, such as incontinence and accessible housing. Like many people who sustain an incomplete spinal cord injury, she has recently learnt to walk again with the use of a stick, and in a recent episode, Jane gets out of the wheelchair and walks for the first time. On Twitter, fans of the soap rejoiced and congratulated actress Laurie Brett on her authentic portrayal of spinal cord injury.
Throughout the storyline, the Spinal Injuries Association has been advising the production team, scriptwriters, and on-set staff about spinal cord injury. Dedicated to making the storyline realistic, they have sought our advice on every detail, from what she would use for arm exercises to the design of her wheelchair. We are incredibly proud to be part of an insightful and challenging storyline and it has been a pleasure to work alongside the professionals at EastEnders, particularly Laurie Brett and her onscreen husband Adam Woodyatt (Ian Beale).
1) How have you found playing the role of Jane Beale during the SCI storyline?
When I first found out about the storyline I knew that it would be incredibly challenging as the injuries that Jane sustained were incredibly complex and would impact on her life and those around her. It was extremely important to all of us at EastEnders that we portrayed Jane’s spinal injuries as accurately as possible and a lot of research went into it. We couldn’t have told this storyline without the research as every little thing in Jane’s life had changed due to her injury.
2) From your experience, what is the biggest thing you have learnt about spinal cord injury?
I have learnt so much whilst portraying Jane’s story. It is not only the little things we can take for granted day in day out but also, how much help and support there is out there.
3) What did you know, if anything, about spinal cord injury before taking on the role?
I’ll be honest – it wasn’t a great deal but since working alongside our researchers and with the advice we have received from SIA, both on and off set, it has really opened my eyes up to what people go through when having a spinal cord injury.
4) How did you find working with our peer support officers and Trustees?
All of the help and support we have received from the SIA has been invaluable. We have an amazing research team here at EastEnders that help with lots of my questions but to have experts that work at an organisation such as SIA on hand for us all has been amazing. I don’t think you can portray an issue such as a spinal injury without this level of knowledge.
5) If you had a friend who was spinal cord injured, how would you now motivate them and be a friend to them having experienced it yourself in EastEnders?
I think you cannot underestimate the support friends and family can give you. To know you have loved ones on hand that can not only come and help you adjust but also to motivate you. Life doesn’t just stop and you have to make the most of everything and to keep having the will power to continue with your physio and exercises. What may seem like a lot of effort to begin with can reap rewards in the long run and you cannot do it alone.
6) How helpful did you find SIA for finding out information about spinal cord injury and life after injury?
I am in a fortunate position that if I have a query with my story, I can call upon our research team who will have either spoken to SIA or will happily call for advice. This is invaluable as you cannot tell Jane’s story without this research. It would be irresponsible to highlight something so serious such as a spinal injury without any research.
7) What do you hope the EastEnders audience have learnt from the SCI storyline?
I would hope that by watching Jane’s story, people will see how much of an impact on someone’s life a spinal injury can cause but also that if we know someone that has suffered an injury, we can all help. Sometimes we feel that if we don’t know about the injury or issue we can’t but the help and support of those close to you is invaluable and cannot be underestimated.
Thank you Laurie, and the BBC team for allowing us to participate in this script.